Directed by Marc Forster. Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini. Columbia.
Decent Films Ratings
Content advisory: Brutal, sometimes deadly hand-to-hand violence, and gunplay and vehicular violence; brief sexual content including attempted sexual assault (no explicit nudity) and references to rape; some obscene, crass and obscene language.
A Christianity Today review
By Steven D. Greydanus
The 2006 smash hit Casino Royale was James Bond’s Batman Begins, a darkly masterful, psychologically layered origin story that threw to the winds the tongue-in-cheek camp stylings of earlier franchise installments and completely rethought its iconic but flawed hero and his world from the ground up, taking seriously the rough edges that had previously been papered over with a wink.
If the unconventional title Quantum of Solace, more redolent of “Star Trek” cerebralism than the id-driven 007 world, held out any hope that the much-anticipated follow-up would be in any way analogous to The Dark Knight — that is, an even more ambitious crucible for the newly minted hero, a soul-searching exploration of chaos and order in a world of escalation, failure and incalculable exigencies — well, no such luck.
Where Casino Royale was the longest Bond movie ever, Quantum of Solace is the shortest ever — and the title track by Jack White and Alicia Keyes bearing the distinctly Bondesque title “Another Way to Die,” is at least one of the most abrasive and unpleasant ever. (Also, as was pointed out to me by CT Movies critic and inveterate list-maker Peter Chattaway, Casino director Martin Campbell was the oldest director ever of a Bond film, while Quantum director Marc Forster is the youngest.)
The result may not be the least consequential Bond flick ever, but it has no pretensions of topping or even rivaling Casino’s landmark contribution to the Bond mythos. Compared to Casino, Quantum is unquestionably a disappointment, a coda to its formidable predecessor. Compared to Bond films for the last twenty years or so, Quantum is… a decent post-Bourne action thriller, I guess. Ferocious car chases, rooftop pursuits, brutal combat sequences, elegantly choreographed stunts, a parade of exotic locations… Quantum does all this, with credible panache. Just don’t expect to care like you did in Casino.
Quantum does extend Casino’s cold, cynical tone as Bond finds himself adrift in a trust-no-one world of military intelligence blind spots, blunders and conflicts of interest. There is some attempt to develop a post-9/11 context for Bond’s adventures in the sinister secret organization “Quantum,” whose absolute invisibility and seemingly all-powerful reach are all the more implausible precisely because of the realism of MI‑6’s fallibility.
Daniel Craig is still the quintessential James Bond, cold, ruthless and somehow lacking in complete humanity. “A blunt instrument,” M (Judi Dench) called him in Casino, and villainous Mr. Greene (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’s Mathieu Amalric) of Quantum, ostensibly an environmentalist–philanthropist, contemptuously describes both Bond and the heroine du jour as “damaged goods.”
The latter is Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a reckless, fragile femme fatale among equally fatales hommes, a woman who, like Quantum’s Bond, is driven by revenge. In one significant way, Camille might be among the most interesting Bond Girls, precisely because she might be, in a sense, the only Bond Girl who isn’t.
To be sure, in Casino Bond had little time for women, and in Quantum he has almost none. But there would ordinarily be little doubt that Bond could have pretty much any woman he wants, certainly by the end of the movie if not sooner. When Mr. Greene confides to Bond, with mixed resentment, envy and contempt, that Camille “won’t sleep with you unless you give her something,” the natural thought is that he doesn’t know Bond. But, by the same token, we don’t know Camille.
Alas, whatever plus Camille might represent is undermined by the inclusion of a token bedroom scene (token is definitely the word) involving an insultingly gratuitous plaything of a Bond Girl, a dewy, strawberry-tressed MI‑6 agent named Fields (21-year-old Gemma Arterton)… and only in the end credits does the film admit that, yes, her first name is Strawberry.
Fields confronts Bond in Bolivia wrapped in a knee-length trenchcoat and no other visible clothing, looking remarkably like a centerfold in some Playboy feature on International Women of Mystery. Isn’t that just the agent you would assign if you were MI‑6 to take Bond in hand, under arrest if necessary? (Answer: Pierce Brosnan Bond, yes; Daniel Craig Bond, no.)
Fields is easily the least credible approximation of a professional woman in a Bond film since then-28 Denise Richards tried to pass for a nuclear physicist in The World is Not Enough. Not that Fields doesn’t seem smart or self-aware, but Bond can’t be bothered even to make a show of flirtation or romancing her, and she obligingly follows him into the bedroom to help him, um, look for stationery (what a line)… and then finds herself naked and smilingly self-remonstrating with her back to Bond as he kisses her from behind?
The scene is just as problematic on Bond’s end. Consider: Fields is the first woman he’s been with since Casino — and the first woman with whom we see this Bond get physical in whom he has neither ulterior nor emotional interest. (The direct chronological dovetailing of the two films leaves no room for hypothetical other women in the interim.)
In Casino Bond began ravishing one woman because (as she knew very well) he wanted something from her, but when circumstances changed he left her on the floor with a bottle of champagne. Then came his beloved/hated Vesper Lynd, for whom he fell body and soul, who saved him and betrayed him and left him a hollower shell of a man than he had been before.
Given that history, meaningless, perfunctory sex with Fields may not be implausible on Bond’s part — but at least it represents some sort of turning point. It should mean something to the screenwriters, if not to Bond. But it doesn’t. It’s like a relic of the pre-Casino franchise, tossed in because you can’t have a 007 movie with no sex.
Just as bad is a nasty postscript that echoes the discovery of the villain’s wife in the hammock in Casino, among other such scenes in Bond history, except that here it’s pointless and unconnected to Bond’s callousness toward women. Quantum even has M making some disparaging remark to Bond (something like “See what your charm has done”), which is stupid, because this time Bond’s charm had nothing to do with it.
M’s role is bigger this time out, but her relationship with Bond is less prickly and more cartoony than in Casino. Quantum also brings back Casino’s Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini), who, in a key scene that would have been even more important in a better film, urges Bond to “forgive” Vesper and himself.
Quantum also takes a turn toward the political: It turns out that the U.S. willingly colludes with military coups in foreign countries if they think there’s oil in it for them, and the British will do whatever the U.S. wants them to. Curiously, Quantum’s evil plot oddly resonates with a key plot point in Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa: In both films a third-world community living in desert terrain is threatened by a hidden group with controlling access to the earth’s most precious resource — a substance beside which even diamonds and gold or oil are seen to be of little worth.
Forster (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland) directs his first action feature in a style clearly modeled on the Bourne and Batman films, all tight closeups and fast edits. For some reason he intercuts action scenes with other images: an underground chase sequence in Siena is punctuated by that city’s Palio horse race; a melee at an opera house is counterpointed by scenes from the opera; and Bond’s climactic duel in a burning desert fortress is intercut with the heroine’s own battle to the death.
Quantum isn’t a complete waste. Craig’s charisma holds up even when the screenplay lets him down. And while there’s nothing here to compare to Casino’s opening parkour chase sequence, the chases and fight scenes are entertaining and sometimes strikingly well staged. Three years ago, Quantum of Solace would have been a pretty good Bond flick. Two pair isn’t a bad hand. It’s just anticlimactic after a royal flush.